I don't understand the meaning of this sentence from Kawabata's "Snow Country Miniature":


This is what Shimamura says to the woman he finds out he is in love with after he sent the geisha away. The parallel text in English translates this as:

"The girl should be not less beautiful than you are, 
otherwise when I saw you after the event, I'd just feel ashamed of myself"

The end of the sentence 後{あと}で君{きみ}と会った{あった}時{とき}、心外{しんがい}じゃないか I understand possibly well enough as: Wouldn't I be ashamed\mortified to have met with you after that?(with "that" referring to the 1. sentence) And here it is clear that the particle refers to meeting with the woman.

From the first sentence 見劣{みおと}りしない女{おんな} is the only part I am sure that means ...a woman on the same level as in not inferior. But after that I have parsing and understanding problems:

  1. The second at the end of 君{きみ}とそう見劣{みおと}りしない女{おんな}でない_と_ I feel should be understood as "upon, when, if". But what does the 女{おんあ}でない mean in this context? If the same-level-woman would not exist? But my guess is strongly influenced by the available translation ;)

  2. what does そう mean in this context? Does it belong to 見劣{みおと}りしない女{おんな} as seemingly not inferior woman or does it stand for some kanji as 添う which means to satisfy/meet expactations and would have to be read as 君{きみ}とそう... in to comply with (expectations on the looks set by) you... ?

  3. In case the behaviour of そう is similar to my first assumption in question No. 2: What is the meaning of the very first ? To which part of the sentence is it connected in that case?

  4. How does one recognize that the discussion is about the looks of the woman? is this due to 見劣{みおと}り? Because my dictonary tells me 見劣りする means only being inferior or compairing unfavorably but the kanji implies to have inferior looks...

Thanks for your help!

1 Answer 1

  1. The と is indeed the conditional form meaning "if". でない is a negative copula (ie. the opposite of である and equivalent to the more usual ではない). So Xでないと simply means "If (she) isn't X".

  2. This そう is a variant usage of the そう in phrases like そうですか, そう思います etc. When paired with a negative expression like this in the form 「そう○○ない」, it's basically equivalent to それほど. For instance, "高くない" means "not expensive" and "そう高くない" means "not that expensive". So while a 見劣りしない女 is a "woman who doesn't compare badly", a そう見劣りしない女 is a "woman who doesn't compare too badly".

  3. This と is being used to indicate a comparison between 君 and the 女; it's a standard collocation with verbs of comparison like 見劣りする. It's the same と that you'd see in expressions like 彼と比べて "compared to him" or 彼と一緒 "together with him", and is also essentially the same as the enumerating と meaning "and" (you can see them blur together in expressions like 猫と犬とどちらがすき? "Which do you prefer out of cats and dogs?", though in modern Japanese the final と tends to be omitted in such expressions.)

  4. As you say, the verb 見劣り has more of a visual element than your dictionary's translations seem to suggest - it's literally to "look" (見) "inferior" (劣る) - so the choice of verb implies that the looks are what is being compared. (Depending on the context, I'd say it could also refer to any quality that can be compared "at a glance", but physical attractiveness seems like a safe bet here.)

  • Thanks a lot, that means I was especially unaware about the 2. point with そう you have written about.
    – Quit007
    Nov 6, 2017 at 17:21

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